CD Reviews: Bostonians’ Haydn Creation impresses; viola stands out in hands of Sarah-Jane Bradley

Joseph Haydn, The Creation (Linn)

Boston Baroque and its founding artistic director Martin Pearlman have done Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) proud in a sparkling new recording of The Creation, one of the masterworks of the oratorio repertoire.

The Viennese composer was so impressed by the oratorios of George Frideric Handel, that he had to write one of his own. The 1798 result, based on the Book of Genesis and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, was an instant hit, its popularity quickly spreading to other parts of Europe.

Haydn, already Europe’s most popular and revered composer, went back to this new well of inspiration to write The Seasons, which played perfectly into the budding Romantic movement and its love of Nature.

There was an English libretto of The Creation translated for the three-part work during Haydn’s lifetime, but Boston Baroque have chosen to sing the succession of recitatives, arias and choruses in the original German, because “it fits the notes more convincingly,” writes Pearlman in his notes.

In fact, the whole interpretation is convincing, dramatic and multi-layered. The period-instrument orchestra and impeccably balanced chorus are the life force here.

Pearlman succeeds in capturing all the colour of animals and other living things teeming on God’s newly formed planet. He  shapes the opening of the piece in a way that can impress even our jaded modern ears, as Haydn depicts the Classical world’s depiction of the Big Bang.

There are many other recordings of the oratorio available out there, including a gorgeous one by period-performance master William Christie and Les Arts florissants. This one is a bit broader and bolder, but is let down — just a little bit — by its soloists.

There is nothing wrong soprano Amanda Forsythe, tenor Keith Jameson and bass-baritone Kevin Deas, but their operatic singing would be better suited to a modern-instrument performance.

For all the details, and audio samples, click here.

There is another great period-performance recording, featuring tenor Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, baritone Michael George and soprano Emma Kirkby, by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music. Here is the opening of of the sung portion of Part I, in English:

English Music for Viola and Piano (Naxos)

Two very talented, younger British musicians tackle gorgeous, neglected music by fellow Britons for a gorgeous, neglected instrument, the viola.

The viola really does get a bum rap. It can sing sweetly like a violin, while also plumbing the depths of emotion in its lower register, as full and juicy as a cello’s higher notes.

Violists may be the most common butts of jokes in the musical world, but Sarah-Jane Bradley can silence the lot with just a few strokes of her silken bow.

Paired with sensitive pianist Christian Wilson, Bradley elegantly lays out three great, meaty works and one sweet trifle from 20th century England.

Here is music that gingerly walks the line between late-Romantic power and experiments in colour and light similar to what the Impressionists were doing in France — all the while sounding particularly local.

The duo’s mix of power and sweetness does wonders for the three big pieces. Edgar Bainton, a composer best known for his church anthems, gets a world-premiere recording of his Sonata for Viola and Piano, from 1922. It is followed by Theodore Holland’s 1938 Suite in D for Viola and Piano and, the star of this disc, the 1919 Sonata for Violin and Piano in F Major, subtitled “Colleen.”

Bantock, who taught and conducted as well, brings a powerful sense of structure to music that is at one sweet and serious, virtuosic and capable of deftly sketching a number of different moods, many inspired by Irish folksong and even a jig.

A brilliant little extra is a sweet, 1960 encore by York Bowen simply entitled “Piece for Viola.” This unpublished work gets the disc’s other world-premiere recording.

For all the details, as well as audio samples, click here.


Bowen, like his peers, was frequently inspired by the legendary English violist Lionel Tertis (1876-1975) to write pieces for the instrument. Here is a sample, the Fantasy for Viola and Piano, performed by violist Richard Youngjae O’Neill and the great collaborator, Warren Jones:

John Terauds


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